By late yesterday afternoon, a new season seemed like a gruesome extension of the Super Bowl for the Washington Redskins.
With devastating precision, Miami quarterback Dan Marino threw five touchdown passes to lead the Dolphins to a 35-17 victory over the Redskins in the season opener before 52,683 at RFK Stadium.
The Redskins' explanations were as hollow as an 0-1 record. Said linebacker Mel Kaufman, "It was an eye opener. This makes two embarrassing games in a row for us, with the Super Bowl. You're gonna see some mad Redskins this week." And linebacker Monte Coleman added, "We can't point fingers now. We need to analyze ourselves individually."
Stare the obvious cause of defeat right in the eye: the Redskins' pass defense was horrid. The pass rush, without injured defensive tackle Darryl Grant, never materialized against Marino's quick three-step drops; the blitzes were deciphered, then exploited. And each deep pass by Marino brought more confusion than defusion in the secondary.
So befuddled was the Redskins' pass defense that free safety Mark Murphy explained Miami's final touchdown pass -- a four-yarder from Marino to wide receiver Jim Jensen that hiked the lead to 35-10 late in the third quarter -- this way: "We had double coverage on the outside receivers on both sides. There was supposed to be somebody outside of me. I looked and no one was there. Everybody was confused."
Jensen spiked the ball with vigor, after this second touchdown reception of his. Soon thereafter, a half-full stadium was full of boos. The 25-point deficit rendered the fourth quarter mostly irrelevant for the Redskins. The same thing happened in that 38-9 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII last January. There, the Redskins trailed by 35-9 after three quarters.
Marino finished with 21 completions in 28 passes for 311 yards. He threw three touchdown passes in the third quarter alone. Not even in the Redskins' lowest moment for the pass defense last year -- when Lynn Dickey completed 22 of 30 for 387 yards and three touchdowns in Green Bay's 48-47 victory -- were five touchdown passes thrown.
Marino's supremacy enabled Miami Coach Don Shula to deadpan, "I was disappointed we were not able to run the ball consistently.
"Everything was like lightning. Marino kept throwing the ball and the receivers made the catches," added Shula.
Said the Redskins' Murphy, "It seemed like one of those days where we would make an adjustment and they were always one step ahead of us." The defensive coach, Richie Petitbon, left the Redskins' locker room quickly and wasn't available to comment.
Forget that the Redskins have won 31 of 36 games, dating to 1981. Coach Joe Gibbs said to forget, too, that the Redskins began last year with a 31-30 loss to Dallas, then won 14 of 15 games.
"This was a little different loss than the opener last year," Gibbs admitted. "We collectively lost it (yesterday). Everybody was responsible all the way across the board. Defensively, we could not put any pressure on and Marino was real sharp. Offensively, we turned the ball over. We know, when we do that, we lose."
Late yesterday, as a light wind unglued a stadium sign that read, "Happiness is Being a Redskin Fan," it seemed lost to most that the Redskins actually had led the game, 10-7, late in the second quarter.
Running back John Riggins, who finished with 98 yards on 15 carries, pounded out the Riggo Drill yardage in that first half. It seemed a recreation of the Redskins' pound-it-out offense that broke the league scoring record last season.
Riggins' one-yard touchdown dive early in the second quarter plus Mark Moseley's 32-yard field goal created that 10-7 edge.
"Our counters (plays) were working, our guts (plays) were working and going to the outside was working," all-pro left tackle Joe Jacoby said. The Redskins possessed the ball for 19 of the 30 minutes in the first half and Riggins had 71 yards on 13 carries. It didn't seem to matter that their best field position of the half was at their own 20.
The portent of things to come occurred late in the first quarter when Marino had connected on a 26-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Mark Duper, who was quite super with six catches for 178 yards and two touchdowns.
Cornerback Darrell Green had his back to Duper on the play and fell in the end zone as a stumbling Duper made the catch. Green, who said his thigh injury did not hinder him, was cited for pass interference.
"I thought (Duper) pushed me. But that's what they pay the ref for," said Green.
The rock that triggered the Miami avalanche finally came with three minutes left in the half. About to rearrange a three-point deficit, Duper ran past cornerback Anthony Washington at the line of scrimmage at the Miami 26.
Duper caught the ball near the left sideline at the 50, no Redskin in sight. Cornerback Green hustled over, but missed a tackle near the 40 and Duper was down the sideline for a 74-yard touchdown. Miami led, 14-10; the Redskins never recovered.
Costly confusion No. 1: Murphy explained that cornerback Washington was supposed to drop back with Duper for 15 yards on the play and then Green was to pick up Duper in a split zone defense.
Washington only said, "I have to look at the films." Green said he thought Washington would cover Duper all by himself, all the way.
In the locker room at halftime, Gibbs told his players that whichever team was able to establish the run in the second half would win.
Shula said he figured, "Defensively our hope was that Riggins would tire himself out (in the first half). On one drive he was so outstanding and their offensive line kept moving us back. They scored the touchdown, but that took a lot out of them . . . And we went into the ball game with the idea of throwing."
The Dolphins then scored on their first three possessions of the third quarter. Riggins ran just twice in the second half because the Redskins had to pass, playing catch-up.
On Miami's first drive in the third quarter, Marino hit Duper, curling deep over the middle, for a 46-yard gain to the Washington six. Cornerback Washington covered on the play and said he thought Duper would turn to the outside.
On the next play, Marino rifled a scoring pass to Jensen, in front of strong safety Tony Peters over the middle. "I turned the wrong way," said Peters. Miami led, 21-10, with 11 minutes left in the quarter.
Each time the Redskins tried a deep pass, possibilities fizzled. On the Redskins' next series, Riggins suffered a slight injury to his knee. "The knee went numb for a little bit," he said.
Two plays later, RFK Stadium went numb, too. Running back Joe Washington entered and fumbled. Dolphins safety Lyle Blackwood recovered at the Washington 43 with 9:36 left in the third quarter.
The players on the Redskins' defense no longer call themselves the "Pearl Harbor Crew." Said Peters, "That ended last year."
But the strafing lasted. Six plays after Washington's fumble, Marino threw to the right side of the end zone where wide receiver Mark Clayton, who is 5 feet 9, outjumped Green (5-8) for a nine-yard touchdown play. Miami led, 28-10, with 5:52 in the third quarter.
Quarterback Joe Theismann (21 of 36 for 204 yards) then tried to generate a comeback on the next series. But his pass to the left sideline for tight end Rick Walker was intercepted at the Washington 47 by cornerback William Judson, who returned it 40 yards to the seven.
This is when Marino hit Jensen -- who didn't know he would start until Shula told him on the sideline prior to the game -- for the final touchdown play, which left Murphy with a sigh, a shrug and a description of confusion.
The fourth quarter brought a four-yard touchdown dash by running back Washington. Theismann was reduced to throwing into a defense jammed with cornerbacks before the expected interception came with 1:14 left.
"They don't have a bad defense," Marino said a week before the Redskins face San Francisco's cagy quarterback, Joe Montana, next Monday at Candlestick Park. "The trouble today was they like to blitz a lot and if you can pick it up like we were, it messes up their coverages."
Providing an anchor of optimism, Gibbs said, "I look at the game as, 'We lost one and have 15 more to go.' "